This weekend sees the start of the 2021-22 North West Counties League Division One North season, a season which takes us into our 40th year of existence. Leading on from our Premier Division Preview we take a look at How Division One North Shapes up and preview this weeks games around the NWCFL parish.
Again, It is a much-changed league from when we last completed a full season with AFC Liverpool, Lower Breck and Prestwich Heys having been promoted to the Premier Division. There are a number of new sides in their first season in Division One North, indeed not just the Division but the NWCFL as a whole as Campion AFC join us having been laterally moved to us from the Northern Counties East League Division One. Campion have been on the cusp of promotion a couple of times in recent seasons and they are expected to challenge again this season.
They will be joined by Ilkley Town who have risen rapidly in recent years and South Liverpool, a non-league club who have been around since 1935, who both accepted invitations to join the NLS at Step 6.
It is Ilkley who we will start with on this preview as they have a massive start to life in the NLS as they host Bury AFC. The Baht’atters welcome Bury to the MPM Stadium in an all-ticket game which sold out as early as last week as demand for this game is high. Ilkley are a bit of an unknown quantity as they start life in the NWCFL but have had a steady pre-season, whilst Bury have had a busy summer of fixtures and are expecting to hit the ground running.
Ashton Town traditionally get off to a fast start and they start their campaign with a home game against another good starter in AFC Blackpool. Ashton have had a mixed pre-season campaign, drawing with Litherland Remyca at the JMO, defeats to Accrington Stanley U23’s and AFC Liverpool and wins over Cheadle Town and Ashton Athletic. Blackpool have had a mixed summer with their most recent friendly ending in defeat at home to West Allotment Celtic.
Campion AFC make their League Debut with a trip to Garstang whilst Cleator Moor Celtic clock up the Motorway miles with a trip to Bacup Borough. Bacup have had some impressive results over the summer, beating neighbours, Barnoldswick 1-0 and drawing with Winsford United and FC United of Manchester.
AFC Darwen have big plans off the park that match their ambition on it and they are another club that are fancied to challenge this season. They host new members to the NWCFL, South Liverpool who have had a number of pre-season games and impressed with solid performances in the build-up to the big kick off. They have recruited from local sides ahead of the new season but also recruited some experience to balance that out.
There’s never a low-key game between St Helens Town and Atherton Laburnum Rovers these days, they are normally very competitive, almost derby-esque and there tends to be goals in the game so both of these clubs facing each other in a season opener should produce a really great game of football. Atherton LR have recruited well over the summer with the likes of Shereen Mahal signing up in pre-season, former AFC Blackpool Centre Back Connor Ikin joining up and Justeace Nichols Holness signing up on a dual reg with Atherton Colls. The club have also retained Adam Lawrence who has committed for another season, the centre back was impressive for LR in recent games.
We mentioned at the start of the ill fated 20-21 season that St Helens Town were a different prospect and Manager, Dave Platt has been able to retain most of his squad that showed the potential in the few games that there were last season. Pre-season has seen Town put in some good performances with a win over Irlam and a hard working 4-4 draw with Knowsley. Throw in commendable performances against Runcorn Linnets, Warrington Town and Prescot Cables and its evident that St Helens are looking to put the graft in this season.
Pilkington are another fancied side this season by observers and they begin their campaign with a trip along the M6 and M65 to Little Wembley as they take on Nelson. Pilks are another club who had a busy pre-season campaign with games against the likes of Runcorn Linnets, AFC Liverpool, Marshalls and Winsford, so they have had a good workout and have also retained the bulk of their squad from last season. Nelson have recruited well with former Clitheroe player Ryan Cattermole signing up as well as Goalkeeper Joe Sealey, son of former Man Utd Keeper Les Sealey signing up. A few shrewd signings and good preparation should see Nelson hit the ground running.
Holker Old Boys welcome Golcar United to The Handmark Engineering Stadium and there has been considerable work taken place ahead of the new season. There are new home changing rooms at the ground as well as a lot of work having been done on the pitch. Add in a new Physio room, new kit and a few new faces and it’s safe to say Holker are ready for their opener. Golcar haven’t been sitting on their hands either, having added former Liversedge player Ash Flynn to the ranks. Flynn was a prolific goal scorer in the NCEL having bagged goals regularly for Liversedge and over two spells at Emley. He joins the likes of Danny Naidole and Leon Henry in the Golcar ranks and the club certainly fancy their chances this season. You can’t blame them, they may well have the firepower there to have a crack at it.
Daisy Hill and Chadderton go head-to-head at New Sirs with both clubs working hard over the last 12 months to push on. Daisy Hill have this week announced another three signings into their squad including Atherton Colls record goal scorer Jordan Cover as well as a number of pitch improvements as well as Pro Stadium goals. They will be hoping to net past them on Saturday against a Chadderton side who have had a busy pre-season facing a number of sides over the last six weeks including Trafford and Alsager Town. This combined with an intense training programme sees Chadderton arguably as ready as they have ever been coming into a season.
Lots of great games to look forward to in Division One North which includes Club debuts, big name signings and new look facilities for players and fans alike. It’s going to be a really interesting season on the park and we cant ask for more than that.